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Hydrothermal Dynamics of Yellowstone Lake

More than 3 million tourists who visit Yellowstone can see the area’s steaming fissures, bubbling mudpots, and explosive geysers from the many roadside stops. But beneath the surface of the lake, hidden from view, is a fount of volcanic activity. It heats fluids that rise and spew in geyser-like hydrothermal vents on the lake floor. The northern part of Yellowstone Lake hosts the largest known hydrothermal explosion craters in the world. They are generated when pressure in the hydrothermal circulation system suddenly drops, causing catastrophic explosions of gas that can excavate large volumes of rock and fluid.

The HD-YLAKE project brings together experts in Yellowstone volcanology, hydrothermal systems, and geology with scientists who study hydrothermal systems in the deep sea. Their goal is to understand how earthquakes, volcanic processes, and climate affect the hydrothermal system located beneath Yellowstone Lake. The science team began its multi-year project on Yellowstone Lake with a three-month field effort. The team of scientists deployed underwater instruments to monitor heat and motion on the lake floor and collected samples with a newly developed remotely operated underwater vehicle. They also extracted a series of long cores of sediments from the lake floor, which hold clues to past events in the lake’s geologic and climate history. Some cores were nearly 40 feet long, extending into deeper sediments that extend further back in time—up to 15,000 years ago when glaciers were beginning to recede from Yellowstone.

Work was completed under an authorized Yellowstone Research Permit.